Panel talks on the struggles to find housing

By Chloe Wilhelm - Staff Reporter



Lisa Sawyer is no stranger to homelessness.

She said that throughout her six-year long struggle with homelessness, finding affordable housing was extremely difficult.

Sawyer explained that getting a housing voucher – necessary to find affordable housing – is difficult due to the long waiting list and the length of the voucher.

She said that after spending three to four years looking for a place to live, it took her a year after she received a housing voucher, which only lasted 12 months.

"Most voucher programs now have over a five-year waitlist," said Sawyer, who is from Seattle. "We really need some changes."

Sawyer is not alone. Many people who are homeless have struggled to find affordable housing, and some shared their experiences along with Sawyer at a housing crisis event at Highline on Monday.

As of 2017, there are around 10,000 people who are homeless in the Seattle-King County area.

Monday's event, which was organized by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, featured a panel of leaders from the Resident Action Project, of which Sawyer is a part.

The Resident Action Project, which was founded in 2015, is an organization of people who have or are experiencing homelessness and who engage in advocacy for safe and affordable housing.

The panel included several leaders from the organization, including Sawyer, Sharon Jones, Bretrand Harrell, and Belinda Springer.

Springer, who is also a student at Highline, said that she has struggled to receive a housing voucher and couldn't find affordable housing with her husband, since he had a criminal record for a crime he didn't commit.

"Finding and keeping housing was hard," she said. "We need to break through this and find open doors."

Bretrand Harrell, who is also known as Mr. B, is a committee member for the Resident Action Project. At the panel, he explained that he also found it challenging to find a home.

As a veteran who moved from Atlanta to Seattle, he was able to get help at first from Veterans Affairs, but ended up becoming homeless.

He said that he had a difficult time finding a place to live, and joined the Resident Action Project a year ago to help others who are struggling to find affordable housing.

Lisa Sawyer said that while she has had difficulties finding affordable housing, she has had a positive experience by becoming involved with the Real Change newspaper.

Real Change, which is a weekly newspaper based in Seattle, provides employment opportunities by hiring self-employed vendors, many of whom are homeless.

However, Sawyer said that even with these opportunities, housing is still difficult to find, mainly due to high rent and the length of housing vouchers.

She explained that many people end up becoming homeless after their vouchers end, since rent in Seattle is otherwise too high to afford.

Sawyer said that she has also been turned down when looking for housing since landlords tend to prefer people with higher paying jobs, such as those from Amazon, Boeing, or Microsoft. 

Teresa Clark, director of organizing for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, said that they are working to make sure everyone has access to a safe and affordable home. 

She explained that after visiting legislators in Olympia and advocating for housing with the Resident Action Project, many bills relating to homelessness were passed during this year's legislative session.

The passing of House Bill 2758 banned housing discrimination based on income, and House Bill 1570 increased the state's real estate document fee an additional $22.

This increase is expected to generate $26 million every year, which will be used to assist an additional 11,500 households that are experiencing homelessness, or are at risk of homelessness.

The Legislature also included $107 million in funding in their capital budget for the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, which helps provide affordable housing.

However, despite this new legislation, Clark said that there is still a long way to go to achieve safe and affordable housing.

"We know this won't be the last time we have to address this issue," she said. "The legislative session is over, but we're not done organizing, advocating, and growing."

Nick Wood, community organizer for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, agreed that there is still work to be done.

"Seeing the crisis in this state is heartbreaking, and to me, is unacceptable," he said. "Mountains can be moved and changes can [be made], but there is a long way to go."

Since there is still more work to be done to achieve affordable housing, Wood said that there are many ways the community can get involved.

Community members can become involved in the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance by visiting http://wliha.org, or learn more about Real Change by visiting http://www.realchangenews.org/.

Wood said that there is also a Seattle rally being planned for May 7 to support affordable housing efforts.

Bretrand Harrell encouraged people to get involved by voting and contacting local legislators.

"Write to your senators. Let them know what you think," he said.

Highline student Belinda Springer, who was one of the panelists, said that since there are many restrictions that people face to get affordable housing, it is extremely important to get involved.

"We are here… and we are speaking out," said Springer, who has also been homeless. "We need open minds, not closed hearts."

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